Women in the World Highlights: A Night of Inspiring Stories
At the Women in the World foundation launch last week, women from told their gripping stories. Read and watch highlights.
Jasvinder Sanghera, who was born and raised in the United Kingdom, was only 14 years old when her mother showed her a photo of a stranger and said she would have to leave school and marry him. She ran away a year later and was told by her family that they would never speak to her again. “Twenty nine years, and I’ve never received a birthday card from anyone in my family. That might sound small, but it’s big,” she said. Now Sanghera works with her charity, Karma Nirvana, to help young girls in Britain escape her fate.People are often reluctant, she said, to stand up for the hundreds of girls who are forced into marriages in the U.K. each year for fear of appearing culturally insensitive.
“Cultural acceptance doesn’t mean accepting the unacceptable,” Sanghera said. Dozens of schools refused to put up posters advertising a hotline where girls could call if they were forced into marriage, she said, fearing the posters would anger some communities. “People turn a blind eye to the issue.”
Diana Nammi, who founded the International Campaign Against Honor Killings after she fled Iran for the U.K. in 2002, said she was shocked when she found out her interpreter was murdered by a jealous husband who was never punished for the crime. “There is no safe place around the world for women,” she said. Nammi helped fight for the first-ever extradition for an honor killing in Britain, after two men killed their cousin for falling in love with a man her family didn’t approve of and then fled to Iraq. (They were convicted last year.)Layli Miller-Muro, founder of the Tahirih Justice Center, which offers pro bono legal advice to victims of gender-based violence, said that the problem is pervasive and almost entirely unacknowledged in America, as well. What’s worse, she’s found that no legal protection exists for the thousands of children forced into marriage—the practice is not even illegal. She says the United Kingdom is “light-years ahead” of the United States on legally protecting children from being married off against their will.
Pornography, Sex Trafficking, and Prostitution
Dian von Furstenberg told the story of Sunitha Krishnan, an Indian activist who has successfully saved women from brothels through her group, Prajwala. “She’s very small, very short, but very strong,” said von Furstenberg. Krishnan has rescued more than 5,000 women and children, 2,000 of them personally. In the shelter right now, the youngest child is not even 4-years-old. “Trafficking is the third most lucrative industry in the world,” said von Furstenberg, “And they consider Sunitha a threat.” She’s been beaten 14 times, received numerous death threats and acid attacks. So why does she do it? “I live for the smile of the children, I live for the hope in their eyes,” she told von Furstenberg.
Liya Kebede said one woman dies every minute from pregnancy-related causes, while Dr. Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation paid tribute to visionary Pakistani doctor Sania Nishtar. Donna Karan stressed the importance of a whole-person approach to health care, a vision she shares with renowned health-care advocate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Liya Kebede Foundation saves the lives of mothers and children by improving maternal health care around the world. Heartfile uses information technology to revolutionize health-care provision in Pakistan. The Urban Zen Foundation uses an innovative, holistic approach to heal cancer survivors.
The Arab Uprisings
The Honorable Jane Harman honored Egyptian human-rights activist and blogger Dalia Ziada for her fearless and passionate commitment to advancing democracy and women's rights in Egypt and beyond, while Michelle Bachelet, in conversation with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, stressed that the two causes are inseparable: "Democracy is not only about voting, it is about inclusiveness." U.N. Women promotes the participation of women in government, particularly those in the Arab world fighting for their rightful place at the table.
Fighting for Peace
Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, in discussion with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, moved all of us in recounting how the courage of her and her countrywomen triumphed over the greed and selfishness of the warlords (or "dumb fools," as she called them) who sought to destroy her country. Her Women Peace and Security Network Africa fosters women's leadership in the areas of non-violent conflict resolution, peace building, and human security across the continent.
Wei Sun Christianson, CEO of Morgan Stanley for China, told the story of Wang Guang Mei and her daughter, Liu Ting, who have devoted their lives to helping underprivileged women and girls in China. Wang Guang Mei was the first lady of China from 1959 to 1968 when her husband, Liu Shaoqi served as president of the People's Republic. But they were both imprisoned soon after, accused of being traitors of the Cultural Revolution. She was released in 1979, not a broken a woman, but with a fierce resolve to help other women. That resolve inspired her daughter, who continues her mother's legacy by growing the "Happiness Program" into one of China's largest charities focused on women. The organization has helped over one million impoverished mothers in over 29 provinces in China. “Wang died in 2006 but her story continues to inspire others to do more for her cause,” said Christianson.
Women in the World Foundation Launch Contributing Organizations
Women for Women InternationalWomen for Women International, a nonprofit in eight war-torn regions, works to provide female survivors of war, civil strife, and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis to self-sufficiency—which helps promote civil societies.
Karma NirvanaKarma Nirvana, a Britain-based charity, helps women who are victims of honor-based abuse and forced marriages.
Vital VoicesVital Voices identifies, trains, and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe.
IKWRO (Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization)The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization is a registered charity that raises public awareness about issues such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and “honor”-based violence, and aims at better laws and policies for women’s rights.Tahirih Justice CenterThe Tahirih Justice Center is a nonprofit organization that works to protect immigrant girls who are fleeing gender-based violence through legal services, advocacy, and public-education programs.U.N. WomenThe United Nations approved the creation of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in 2010—nicknamed U.N. Women—with the goal of providing a “stronger voice for women and gender equality” worldwide.Urban Zen FoundationThe Urban Zen Foundation works to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, preserving cultures around the world, and empowering children.
The Liya Kebede FoundationThe Liya Kebede Foundation works to stop women and children worldwide from dying from lack of prenatal care or in childbirth.HeartfileHeartfile is a health-sector nonprofit and think tank focused on working with the government to improve health and social outcomes and has become a powerful and respected voice in Pakistan in health policy.Prajwala IndiaPrajwala is an anti-trafficking organization based in Hyderabad, India, providing survivors of prostitution with refuge and rehabilitation.